I’ve covered ACS:Law numerous times, in fact ACS:Law is responsible for me questioning my own “anti-piracy” stance.
Long time readers to this blog may remember the contact we had from Indiana Gregg, who spoke to OpenBytes about the subject of piracy. I covered the shocking treatment she had at the hands of those who couldn’t debate the issue properly and whilst Ms Gregg and myself had differences in opinions in some area’s, I found her to be an intelligent charming person who was passionate about the industry she is involved in.
I have never condoned or advocated piracy, however those views get tested when I read testimonials from people who have been in receipt on letters from ACS:Law and similar.
Over on ACS:Law’s site which is allegedly a one man operation (Mr Crossley) there has been numerous posts to justify what he does. I’ve said before that this lucrative means of getting money from some people has to be questioned since its alleged many people will “payup” out of fear, “guilty” or not.
The evidence Mr Crosley presents against suspected file sharers in my opinion is largely untested, rather weak and the very simple defense of “It may have been my IP address, but I have no knowledge of who was using it” would be rather strong in a civil court, where although the burden of proof is “balance of probabilities”, still, in my view does not meet the threshold for a judgment in favour of ACS:Law, since while you may be able to identify the IP address, the “culprit” is rather more difficult to prove.
Keeping on the topic of ACS:Law though, what also worries me are these “agreements” which people are signing to accompany the settlement (if they want an out of court resolution), are in my opinion where the real stitch up occurs. You are basically making promises which if approached again on a copyright infringement allegation, you are fighting from a weakened position. If I was suspicious minded, I could believe that those “agreements” would be worth a lot of money to others who had a future claim of infringement on their material. But maybe as one of my resident trolls commented, I’m just being paranoid.
So lets look at this “support” claimed by Mr Crosley and it can be found on the ACS:Law homepage: http://www.acs-law.org.uk/index.php
This is apparently a letter, sent by Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, which is posted in an article entitled “Leading Lawyer Denounces Harassment Claims”. Lets look at the first lines:
I write this Opinion on the instructions of Andrew Crossley (“Mr Crossley”), Principal of the firm ACS Law.
Source: ACS:Law Homepage
Ok. So its written on the instructions of Mr Crossley? Not a letter sent without request in support of ACS:Law? I then assume that ACS:Law paid for this letter and the services of Mr Tim Lawson-Cruttenden? That’s not what the title of the post on his site implied to me … Lets move on.
I’ll let you read the rest of the letter on the above link, but this to me seems more of a defense in the upcoming questions that Mr Crossley may get. It is reported that Mr Crossley has been reported to the SRA so maybe this is his prepared statement or makes up part of his defense?
ACS:Law has an entry on Wikipedia which says:
The main partner of the company, and its only registered solicitor, is Andrew Crossley. Crossley has twice been found guilty of conduct unbefitting a solicitor by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, in 2002 and again in 2006. In August 2010, the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed that Crossley was being summoned to his third disciplinary tribunal, in response to ACS:Law’s action against suspected file sharers.
going on to say:
In August 2010, the Solicitors Regulation Authority ruled that ACS:Law had “a case to answer” regarding its campaign against file sharers, and set up a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. It is the third disciplinary tribunal for Andrew Crossley, the head solicitor at the firm. It is expected that the tribunal will make its judgement by the end of 2011. The tribunal has the power to fine, reprimand or strike off solicitors.
Whatever the case though, if Mr Crossley is found guilty for allegedly the third time by the SRA, will he find the result similar to the “three-strikes” of the DEB?
Mr Crossley though has previously been found guilty by the SRA and you can read the findings in the records which can be downloaded from the Wiki entry above.
Harassment Act v ACS:Law
Looking at both the claims of harassment and the actions of Mr Crossley, I do not believe this is as clear cut as Tim Lawson-Cruttenden says in his letter. You could argue that finding of harassment (in respect of criminal law) would open up the flood gates for a plethora of other cases to be brought forward (, let me cite some now:
1. Debt collection/bailiff letters
2. repeated junk mail from the local double glazing firm
There could be more, but if a case of harassment can be found against Mr Crossley and his “honest held belief” in the liability of the owner/user of an IP address, then there are many more firms that send repeated letters that could be accused of the same thing (as exampled above, debt collectors)
Looking at Sec 1(1) of the Harassment Act, a point to be noted is “which the defendant knows, or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.” and I would say, imagine trying to prove that Mr Crossley was doing anything other than acting in honest held belief of the liability of a particular IP address. Mr Crossley gets his information from a 3rd party and in respect of a Criminal case “beyond all reasonable doubt” in my view could never be met that his view was anything other than honest held belief of the validity of his information and ergo his investigations into a copyright infringement.
The Act provides defenses which are summarised by example:
….. applies to companies acting within their legal entitlement, for example a Building Society manager warning in writing of repossession proceedings, because of default in mortgage payments, followed by repossession taking palace.
and also states:
that the defendant was acting reasonably in the particular circumstances.
Is a letter enquiring into a possible copyright infringement “reasonable” – Thats something a court would have to decide, although I would think that a letter from ACS:Law would be considered reasonable. If they had large chaps knocking on your door, that would be a different matter…but thats not the case with ACS:Law.
Of course, this is my interpretation of a criminal law applied to this matter and would be very interested to hear the views of others.
I think there should be some sort of best practice for this alleged speculative invoicing and its something that Im sure the SRA will consider when it has its hearing. What maybe should be the case is a single request from ACS:Law for information/admittion of liability sent by recorded delivery. The result of that would be enough to put the decision back to Mr Crossley as to if he wants to proceed to court or not. That to me would be good practice, not, as alleged, repeated letters sent to houses.
I certainly think that the “contracts” which are signed by the receivers admitting liability should not be present and I’m sure those too will be looked at by the SRA.
Receivers of these letters who have claimed innocence and subsequently had the matter dropped may want to look towards a civil case themselves. Receiving a letter like this can be extremely upsetting for some. Unlike the Police force who by way of their job have the powers in law to arrest/interview people under suspicion, that is not the case for ACS:Law. They are a business which is effectively in my view, interviewing you without caution (if you respond to these letters) and even worse than that you are then signing up to an agreement for future conduct which you may not have control over. The letters state you should seek legal advice, but how many people would look at that as an extra expense if they are already worried about a possible court case.
They are an admittion of guilt and from reports many people have signed them out of fear of going through and expensive court case, not out of guilt.
The fall out
The one thing the internet has proved is that large corporations can no longer control public opinion. We only have to look at ad campaigns in all areas of the commercial sector to see bloggers, commenters et al ripping them to shreds. The day of PR and damage control is over (for industry) and I think the public are far more openly skeptical of everything said by those who want your money. The Internet provides an ideal forum for this expression and enables like-minded people to form pretty powerful groups of their own in cyberspace.
One such “group” is the 4chan forums who have taken it upon themselves to ddos sites which support (and enforce) an anti-piracy stance. Whilst such attacks would fall under the Computer Misuse act or similar offences in my opinion, it’s the rallying of thousands of people behind a cause, which it seems, the sites in question are unable to defend themselves against. It does show how strong public opinion can be.
Whilst the ddos attacks themselves make interesting reading, for me it does not help matters. This eye for eye attitude only gives ammunition for people to show that the “pro-filesharing” opinion is wrong and file sharers are made up of a collection of criminals. This is not the case and I think to loose the moral high-ground (by acting in this way) only diminishes their argument.
Here is some coverage of the ddos attacks:
I’ll be looking at ACS:Law again in the future as a reader has submitted his story to me. When it reaches it’s conclusion, I’ll cover it here.
Goblin – firstname.lastname@example.org
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